The Proper Care & Feeding of Recruiters

Establishing a good working relationship with one recruiter or multiple recruiters is an important tool in furthering your career and even in establishing yourself on the road to employment success. Whether you’re on the market now, employed and “testing the water”, or you receive the proverbial call out of the blue, a recruiter can hold the key to your career development. Having been a recruiter for over 30 years, let me give you some tips that will pay off for you and the recruiter with whom you interface.

Let me first bust a myth and clear up a misconception. A recruiter is not there to “find you a position”. I know that may sound harsh and blunt, and it may even bruise your ego a bit, but it’s true. Recruiters have a primary objective and that is to fill the positions entrusted to them by their client, the company which pays their fee. Most recruiters work straight commission (hence, on contingency) so if they don’t get a candidate hired by their client, they don’t get paid. The client has a need, you are potentially the solution, and the recruiter is the middleman who brings the two together.

Like a matchmaker he is evaluating how good a “marriage” you and his client have the potential of being. Personally, I think a good recruiter will take into account the needs of both the company and the candidate to insure long-term success for both parties rather than focus on the immediate hire alone, but it is always best to remember that the primary allegiance of any recruiter is to his client, the hiring company.

I want to include a word to the wise. If a recruiter calls you, take the call or return it quickly. I can assure you that if a recruiter calls you, it’s because he has a reason. Even if you aren’t looking currently (besides, how do you know until you see what he has on his plate?) you’ll establish a contact that will be of value, if not today then at sometime in the future when you need it.

Here are 7 ways to ensure a mutually beneficial working relationship with a recruiter.

1) LOOK FOR A SPECIALIST. Years ago, when I entered the recruiting industry, being a generalist wasn’t uncommon. Today, with the market and competition, recruiters generally specialize. Some work a local market and some work nationally. A specialist in your industry or discipline will have a benefit for you and in turn, your background will be of interest to the recruiter. How a recruiter specializes may vary. Some are industry specific (i.e. insurance, accounting, hospitality, industrial, etc.) and others are position specific (i.e. sales/sales management, marketing, mechanical engineers, chemists, etc.) Many specialize in an industry and functions within that industry. As an example, my recruiting company specializes in sales and sales management within the broad healthcare industry. Don’t be afraid to ask a recruiter what he specializes in.

2) PRACTICE FULL DISCLOSURE. Be up front and honest in regard to your current and past employment situation, even if unemployed. Saying you’re “currently employed” only to have the recruiter find out you’re not will quite possibly end or severely damage your relationship. He is vouching for you to the client and his credibility is impacted by yours. The same applies for your job history, earnings, and where you are in the search process in terms of making a position change. Recruiters like factual information. Even if it may be negative, they need to know. Eating the frog on the front end can keep you from losing the ideal job later in the process. You see, a recruiter represents you to his client. He takes your criteria and theirs and creates the environment for an interview to take place. He can deal effectively with a negative if he knows what it is. If you allow him to be “blindsided”, you look bad and so does he. If the negative you fear prevents you from interviewing with that particular client, it would have kept you from getting the offer in the long run.

3) BE ENTHUSIASTIC. Even though the recruiter is an independent entity, he is an extension of the company for which he is recruiting. He is evaluating you for the client, so that first impression is important whether it is in a face to face interview or a phone interview. If you have enthusiasm and excitement in regard to your career, his interest in you, the company he is representing, and the position, it will help him have a positive view of you as a candidate. If he is excited about you, he will look forward to presenting you to his client as a potential solution to their problem. Here is another thing to consider: a recruiter works many assignments at one time, with numerous companies. Not only is he evaluating you for the specific position and company he called you about, but also potentially for other assignments active on his desk.

4) DON’T LEAD, FOLLOW. I know, I know, always better to be a leader than a follower. I agree, but when a recruiter calls, understand this: they have the opportunity and also the discretion of whether they tell you what it is or not. If you understand that they make many, many calls a day (and being commission types, time is money), this pointer will help you. Now, I’m not saying play a game of 20 questions. Do not give yes and no answers unless the question requires one, either. What I am saying is, like when dancing, someone leads and someone follows. Let him lead the discussion and take it where he needs to go as he generates the information needed to ascertain your candidacy for his client. Through the course of the conversation you will have the opportunity to ask questions and often be prompted by the recruiter to do so. It’s a two-way street, but he’ll take the lead.

5) DO NOT BE A DISTRACTION. All recruiters work differently and knowing the rules of the game will make your life easier. Do not call the recruiter to “check in”, believing the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Doing so may quickly divert your intent of being a good candidate to an annoyance and you’ll be frustrated that your calls aren’t being returned. In your own business, I’d bet you get buried in emails and phone calls, right? A recruiter is not any different and I’d venture to say, has it even worse. With hundreds or thousands of active candidates in the database, many clients and new candidates daily, if he took “check in” calls he’d never get anything done. I reiterate an earlier statement, the recruiter wants to place people, fill his client’s needs and make money, so if he needs you, he will call. Trust me.

Ask what he expects in regard to follow up from you and proceed accordingly. If asked to call on a certain day or at a certain time, do so. Once again, if he calls you, he has a reason. Possibly he needs more information for the client, he has an interview scheduled, or another opportunity surfaced. Make the recruiter a priority. It will help you, of course, but also enhance your image in his eyes. The one time you NEED to call the recruiter immediately is after an interview, every interview. To represent you effectively it is a must to debrief you and get your feedback, good, bad, or indifferent. In that way, going to bat for you is easier. It sends a positive impression to the client as well of you as a candidate, demonstrating good follow-up skills and interest in the position and company.

6) BE HONEST. Like point #2, full disclosure, honest communication is essential. When discussing opportunities with a recruiter honesty is appreciated. Subterfuge is not. It’s easy to extol the virtues in regard to a company or position but the negatives are important, too. If you have concerns, voice them to the recruiter. He may have the information to alleviate your concern and answer your doubts. If not, he can easily get it. It may be a deal breaker and if so, that’s life.

Not every position is ideal for a candidate nor is every candidate ideal for a client. The worst thing you can do in many ways is keep a recruiter “in the dark”, attempting to “keep your options open”. It is a major waste of time for all parties concerned and you will alienate the recruiter. Recruiters work hard to create a great marriage between their client and the candidate. The last thing they need is for the client to “fall in love” with you and “propose marriage” to hear a “no” or “let me think about it”. Any of you who are married and proposed at some point, or have been proposed too, can relate to this. Either one of those answers ruins the moment. Let the recruiter know where you stand at all times and he’ll help you get the job or if it isn’t the position for you, you can move on and go get the next one.

7) GIVE REFERRALS. Recruiters appreciate referrals of good candidates you know or people of whom you are aware who stand out in the industry. Whether you directly refer someone or pass on a name and company, rest assured that confidentiality is the lifeblood of the recruiting industry. Any information you pass along will be confidential and kept between you and the recruiter if that is your wish. If you know of positions open that don’t interest you specifically, pass that information on as well.

Business is relationships. I have candidates I have placed numerous times. Others I have placed only once. Many I knew for a long time before that “perfect” position meant the right situation for them. Some I have never placed but we have enjoyed a great exchange of information over the years. I value them all and always endeavor to assist when I can.

Here is just one more “peek inside the tent”. Like a small town where everyone knows everyone and secrets are few, the recruiting industry is very much a society unto its own. If you have been in the recruiting industry awhile, you know other recruiters who know recruiters who know candidates and so on. Often, we co-op with each other to benefit our businesses. Though competitors, we become friends too. Many chat often with each other. By developing a great relationship with one recruiter you may find yourself in demand by others as a result of your on-going relationship. I have even referred a candidate with whom I was impressed but couldn’t place to another recruiter on a gratis basis hoping to assist both the recruiter and the candidate. So, being aware of a recruiter you trust and value can be a great networking tool.

The proper care and feeding of “headhunters” can bear fruit in your career garden for many years. Tend them well.

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